«We’re going to keep protesting. This is bigger than any one of us.»
The first time Sara Montpetit skipped school to lead a climate march, she earned herself detention for “unmotivated absence” and had to write an essay explaining her actions.
Well, sure enough, she skipped school again Friday and took to the streets of Montreal, rallying with hundreds of other truants to raise awareness about climate change.
“The school, the administration, they’re going to do what they have to do,” said Montpetit, the 17-year-old founder of Pour le futur MTL. “But you can hardly call this an ‘unmotivated absence.’ We’re very motivated.
“We’re going to keep protesting. This is bigger than any one of us. Some things are just worth fighting for.”
Montpetit, a Grade 11 student at Robert Gravel high school, was joined by peers from a half-dozen schools at Jeanne Mance Park. Some were still in their physical education uniforms, chanting “we’re hotter than the planet” as they waved signs and marched toward downtown.
Paolo Beaupérin missed an exam last week to attend the first march. He got a zero on the test.
“I’ll just have to work harder to pass,” said Beaupérin, a student at Joseph François Perrault high school in St-Michel. “This isn’t a joke, we’re serious about this.”
Montpetit said she was inspired to start marching because of Greta Thunberg — the 16-year-old Swede who started skipping school last year to shame politicians into acting on climate change. Her actions have encouraged hundreds of thousands of students to stage walkouts across Europe.
The European Union’s goal is to cut emissions by 40 per cent below 1994 levels before 2030. But while speaking to leaders at an EU event this week, Thunberg said the European Union needs to double its carbon emission targets.
Montpetit said she admires Thunberg’s grit but that her inspiration also came from a sense of hopelessness she saw within her peer group.
“We were talking about our future, all wondering if we would have children one day. And everyone in the group said, ‘With the planet being the way it is, no way,’” Montpetit said.
“I thought: ‘What kind of a world is this where we’re not even able to think about our own future or our children’s future?’”
She posted a statement on Instagram, calling on her fellow high school students to march with her on Feb. 15. They came by the hundreds.
Montpetit says she wants commitments from provincial and federal politicians to hit carbon reduction targets but also to create a climate awareness curriculum for schools across the province.
“We have a contemporary issues class where we discuss social problems but they cancelled the section on the environment,” said Émilie, a student who did not want her last name published. “We need to learn about this because the planet is dying. We can’t ignore this and hope it will go away.”
Friday’s rally had to be delayed slightly to accommodate wave after wave of late arrivals. Each new group was met with an eruption from the crowd. Sydney Bishop, a Grade 8 student, was one of about a dozen teenagers from FACE at the rally.
“My parents support this,” Bishop said. “The school may be angry at us but even some of the teachers are supporting it. They know it’s a huge problem.”
Bishop said she wants to see better education about the environment in high school but she’d also like to see schools reduce their carbon footprint by cutting down on plastic and paper waste.
Just as the students were set to march, they got a surprise visit from Québec solidaire’s Manon Massé, who encouraged them to “Go! Go! Go!”
“I’m proud of my fellow students,” Montpetit said. “We care and we’re not waiting for someone else to get this started — we’re taking action now.”
The students say they plan to march every Friday until March 15, when they are to take part in a larger rally alongside CEGEP and university students.